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Judicial relief for Sharifs: Imran soft on Nawaz, hard for Shahbaz

Top Story

March 27, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) heaved a sigh of relief on Tuesday when its main leaders won favourable verdicts from higher courts.

Nawaz Sharif, the party Quaid, was granted bail for six weeks by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on medical grounds, while the party president Shahbaz Sharif was allowed to go abroad with removal of his name from the Exit Control List (ECL).

While the PML-N activists celebrated the decisions across the country, the ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, gave a mixed reaction. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said Prime Minister Imran Khan had wished Nawaz Sharif complete recovery. However, he announced that the government would challenge the Lahore High Court verdict, allowing Shahbaz Sharif to visit abroad.

Earlier, during the day, the SC granted bail to Nawaz, so that he could consult doctors of his choice within the country. However, he was restrained from going abroad.

A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, and comprising Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and Justice Yahya Afridi, heard the Nawaz petition against a verdict of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) dismissing his bail application in the Al-Azizia corruption reference. The court suspended the prison sentence of former premier for six weeks, directing him to deposit surety bonds of Rs10 million with its Registrar office.

An IHC bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani on February 25 had dismissed Nawaz’s petition seeking bail and suspension of his seven-year sentence on medical grounds. Nawaz was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined Rs1.5 billion and US$25 million in the Al-Azizia corruption reference, in a verdict by an accountability court on Dec 24, 2018.

Nawaz, however, filed a petition in the Supreme Court on March 1, 2019, praying to set aside the judgment of the IHC rejecting his bail plea in Al-Azizia corruption reference.

On Tuesday, Khwaja Haris, counsel for Nawaz Sharif, and the counsel for National Accountability Bureau (NAB), argued before the court. The court, after hearing the parties concerned, reserved the judgment and later announced it after two hours, granting six weeks bail to former premier on medical grounds.

“The sentence of the petitioner handed down by the Accountability Court-II, Islamabad in Reference No 19 of 2017 in respect of an offence under Section 9(a)(v) read with section 14(c) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 is suspended and he is admitted to bail for a period of six weeks from the date of his release as a consequence of this order,” the court announced in a short order.

The court made it clear that during this period the petitioner cannot leave or be allowed to leave the country. The court ruled that bail granted to the petitioner through the present order, which would automatically cancel upon expiry of six weeks from the date of his release whereupon the petitioner would surrender to the jail authorities voluntarily failing which he should be retaken into custody.

“Surrender to custody by the petitioner shall not include surrendering before a court with an application for bail,” the short order further read adding that during the period of six weeks the petitioner may get himself medically treated from medical practitioners and medical facilities of his choice in Pakistan.

The court held that if during that period, the appeal filed by the petitioner before the Islamabad High Court is finally decided by the said court, then the custody of the petitioner would be regulated by an order of the high court to be passed in that regard, if need be.

The court observed in the short order that the medical reports of the petitioner brought on the record of the case do suggest that he has a long history of various ailments including cardiac complications, kidney problem, hypertension and diabetes.

“Some of the reports prepared by the medical boards and available on the record clearly recommend “The patient’s current symptoms necessitate coronary angiography, after nephrologist clearance” and that “the patient needs cardiac catheterization, for further management, in view of his symptoms of angina,” says the short order.

The court observed that because of long standing history of comorbidities and complicated cardiac surgical history, a nephrologist and cardiac surgical backup is recommended. The court noted that it has clearly been mentioned in such reports that while undergoing angiography the petitioner “will be at a mild moderate risk of contrast including nephropathy”.

“In this peculiar backdrop, and extending due deference to the consistent medical opinion of senior doctors available on the record, the prayer made by the learned counsel for the petitioner regarding admission of the petitioner to bail upon suspension of his sentence for a limited period has been found by us to be reasonable,” says the short order.

The court, after converting the petition into an appeal and the same allowed as well asked the petitioner to furnish bail bond in the sum of Rs5,000,000 with two sureties each in the like amount to the satisfaction of the Additional Registrar (Judicial) of it.

Earlier, Kh Haris, counsel for Nawaz, sought some eight weeks bail for his client and pledged that he would surrender before the court after completion of his medical treatment. Khwaja Haris informed the court that his client cannot leave the country as his passport was with the court.

The CJ, however, recalled that the appeal of the petitioner was still pending before the high court and questioned what will happen if the IHC verdict on the appeal is announced during this time as it has been fixed for hearing on April 9.

Counsel for Nawaz, however, submitted that the high court has issued only notice which he has not yet received as well adding that even if the instant appeal was fixed for hearing on April 9, it might take time as the record is based on more than 4,000 pages."

Khwaja Haris again briefed the court pertaining to the overall medical reports of former premier besides submitting a letter from Dr Lawrence to Dr Adnan. The chief justice, however, observed that the letter is written by a private individual to another private individual and was not addressed to the court.

The CJ questioned the legal status of the said letter and asked the counsel as to how it could be produced before the court as evidence. Khwaja Haris contended that he was not relying on the letter, but it was review by doctors pertaining to the health condition of his client.

The chief justice observed that the court have to look into the present health condition of the petitioner. “Here is a case you have to build up that the situation is decorated to an extent that he cannot be kept in jail,” the CJ said. Khwaja Haris, however, contended that he has to undergo angiography while he is also suffering from chronic kidney disease, which is at third stage.

Similarly, the flow of blood supply from heart to brain is 43 per cent blocked which is an alarming situation and needed immediate treatment,” Haris contended. The chief justice asked the counsel as to whether the hospitals available in the country are incompetent to provide the required medical treatment to the petitioner.

“If you want treatment, it can be arranged as there is no issue of providing adequate medical facilities in the country,” the CJ told the counsel. “If we arrive at a conclusion that you are serious, can we help in your treatment,” the CJ further told Khwaja Haris.

“You want bail so that he comes out from stress and then start contacting doctors,” the CJ said after the counsel contended that in jail his client will be under mental stress and cannot get medical treatment in such a condition.

The chief justice inquired as to whether the petitioner’s stress could be removed in two weeks and if he was allowed to consult his doctors but with the condition that he will have to return to jail after all he is a convicted prisoner.

“Every prisoner is in stress and even people who are not under trial are also under stress,” the CJ remarked. He further observed that they have gone through all the medical reports wherein it was not mentioned anywhere that his condition is dangerous.

Khwaja Haris, however, referred to Dr Asim Hussain’s case saying he was granted bail on medical grounds, adding that his client’s health condition has worsened and all doctors recommended immediate treatment. The chief justice said that as per Prisons Rules, it is the duty of jail superintendent to refer the prisoners to a hospital for required medical treatment.

“I may be free from stress so that I may consult a doctor for the treatment,” Khwaja Haris submitted. Also, Additional Prosecutor NAB argued before the court and opposed the prayer, seeking eight weeks bail, maintaining that the petitioner is a convicted prisoner who is already being offered as well as afforded the best medical treatment and facilities available in the country.

Meanwhile, Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday ordered the federal government to remove the name of opposition leader in National Assembly, Shahbaz Sharif, from the Exit Control List (ECL), paving his way to go abroad.

A two-member bench, headed by Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmed, announced the verdict and observed that neither the name of an individual could be placed on no-fly list nor his liberty curbed on the basis of mere allegations.

Shahbaz’s lawyer Azam Nazir Tarar contended that the ban on his international travel was a blatant violation of fundamental rights of his client, guaranteed under the Constitution. He stated that the right to international travel besides right to liberty was also an integral part of right to life and right to meaningful, satisfying and purposeful life.

The PML-N president informed the court the impugned memorandum not only failed to disclose valid and correct reasons for its issuance but was also void for punishing him unheard. He contended that being leader of the opposition in National Assembly and head of a political party, he required travelling within and outside the country.

The federal cabinet had approved placing his name on the ECL after the high court granted him bail in two National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases against him including Ashiana Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar Mills, he stated.

He requested the court to set aside the impugned memorandum of the government and order removal of his name from the ECL. To a court query, the NAB prosecutor stated that an inquiry against Shahbaz pertaining to ownership of assets beyond known sources of income was under way. He said an inquiry in this regard was launched on Oct 23, 2018 and suspicious transactions were detected in his bank account.

When the court sought documentary proofs from NAB to establish the claim regarding Shahbaz’s assets, the prosecutor failed to produce them. He, however, claimed that Shahbaz Sharif accumulated assets worth Rs330 million beyond known sources of income and an inquiry was going on to that effect.

He stated that Shahbaz Sharif should approach an appropriate forum at first instance to get his name removed from the ECL. The court snubbed NAB prosecutor for making oral assertions without having any proofs and remarked in satirist manner that NAB could even claim that “Shahbaz Sharif is the richest man on the earth”.

“Does the liberty of an individual could be curtailed on the basis mere allegations or assumptions? Where does NAB accrue powers to suggest placing of name of a citizen on the ECL and on what basis, the court raised questions which NAB prosecutor failed to reply.

Shahbaz stated that he appeared before NAB whenever he was summoned, yet his name was placed on the no-fly list. The counsel cited the example of Ayyan Ali's case in which the court had ordered removal of her name from the ECL. He said that the government put his client's name on the no-fly list after a court of law accepted his plea for bail. He added that NAB authorities were making a mockery of laws.

He argued that Shahbaz used to go abroad and return during the inquiry and investigation. He pointed out that Prime Minister Imran Khan frequently asserted that he wanted to fix Shahbaz. After hearing both sides, the court set aside the notification pertaining to putting an embargo on his international travel.

In October, last year, NAB had launched an investigation against Sharif to detect his "illegal" assets. The inquiry was launched when Shahbaz Sharif was already in the custody of the bureau in connection with Rs14 billion Ashiana-i-Iqbal housing project scam. He is also facing investigation in the Saaf Pani Company scandal for allegedly awarding contracts in violation of rules.

Meanwhile, briefing the media here after a cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, speaking at a news conference, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaurdhy announced that the government would challenge the LHC decision in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. "There is a record of Sharif family members leaving the country and not coming back," added Chaudhry.

Later on, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry termed the PPP train march, "Abu Bachao," movement, Geo News reported.

Taking aim at the train march, dubbed "Caravan-e-Bhutto" by the PPP leadership ahead of the 40th death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Fawad said Tuesday it is the "world's first Abu Bachao train march that is being launched to provide legal protection to corruption".

To a question, Fawad said the track record of Shahbaz Sharif family had been that whosoever from his family went abroad, never returned.

He said that the cabinet was informed about the Supreme Court granting six weeks bail to Nawaz Sharif and said it might not be appropriate to call it bail rather leave. "We respect the Supreme Court decision and will implement it, as in the past," the minister maintained.

Fawad pointed out, "Nawaz Sharif's narrative has been exposed fully, as he does not suffer from illness, just stress. The chief justice raised a very valid question when he pointed out that Nawaz Sharif is not alone in feeling stress, all inmates feel that. He wondered should all be sent abroad?

The minister said that the ban on Nawaz Sharif to go abroad was a welcome decision by the apex court and it would be seen whether or not there was a need to place his name on ECL and if already it was, then it was fine.

He emphasised that the Supreme Court's verdict was welcome that it was not much different from what the government had been offering to Sharif. He explained, "We also said that Nawaz has the option to seek treatment in any hospital of his choice. If they had listened to us, they would not have had to pay extra money to Kh Haris.

"I am surprised at the fact Nawaz Sharif does not have faith in the Ittefaq hospital built by themselves," he said.

He said if Nawaz permanently wanted to go abroad, then there was an option already of plea bargain; i.e. he would have to pay back the public money, adding PTI came to power on the basis of its slogan of accountability and combating corruption.